As a prophet of God in Israel during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, Elijah was an endangered species. The evil royal couple had done everything in their power to rid the nation of God’s spokespeople so that their own prophets of the false gods Baal and Asherah could do their work unopposed.
Elijah had a target on his back because he had announced God’s judgment on Israel. A devastating drought gripped the land, wreaking havoc on the nation’s food and water supply. Missing the point of judgment completely, King Ahab blamed Elijah for the drought (1 Kings 18:17).
On the appointed day, the prophets of Baal assembled at Mount Carmel to prepare their wood and altar, as well as the bull they intended to sacrifice. When everything was just so, they began to pray to their god to accept their sacrifice.
From morning until noon, they called out to Baal, begging and pleading whit him to send a fire. They danced to get his attention and then shouted louder. When that didn’t work, they cut themselves with knives and spears, hoping their blood would arouse Baal’s interest. “All afternoon they kept on raving until the offering of the evening sacrifice, but there was no sound; no one answered, no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29). The prophets of Baal failed to elicit even a slight warming of their sacrifice.
The eyes of the nation turned to Elijah, the sole representative of Yahweh, to see if he could accomplish what his Baal worshipping opponents could not.
Elijah’s first step was to repair the altar of the Lord that had been torn down in Israel’s rush to embrace the idols and false gods of their neighbors. He used 12 stones to represent the 12 tribes of Israel.
His next step was to dig a trench, deep enough to hold four gallons of water, around the altar. He covered the top of the altar with firewood, cut up his bull for sacrifice, and placed the meat on top of the wood.
With everything in place, there was only one more preparation to be made. Elijah handed out four large water pots and instructed people to fill them with water and pour it over his sacrifice and altar-not once, not twice, but three times.
All told, 12 pots of water were poured over Elijah’s sacrifice, drenching the meat, the wood, and the altar itself. The runoff filled the surrounding trench.
The onlookers-including the exhausted and bloodied prophets of Baal-must have been stunned by Elijah’s strategy. He’d made it practically impossible for anything to ignite his sacrifice.
And that was precisely his intent.
Elijah approached his waterlogged altar and prayed aloud for everyone to hear: “Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these things. Answer me, LORD! Answer me so that this people will know that You, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back” (1 Kings 18:36-37).
Fire descended from heaven to devour Elijah’s offering, along with the wood beneath it, the stones of the altar, and the dirt on which the altar was built. The flames even consumed every drop of water in the trench that surrounded the altar.
The Lord sent an unmistakable message to his people about what the living God is capable of-and why false gods should be dismissed as the nonentities they are. The impact was immediate and profound. “When all the people saw it, they fell facedown and said, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!'” (1 Kings 18:39).
The Lord also sent a message to believers throughout the ages about what one person who fully trusts in him can accomplish.
1 KINGS 18:36-37 – “At the time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet approached the altar and said, ‘Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that at Your word I have done all these things. Answer me, LORD! Answer me so that this this people will know that you, Yahweh, are God and that You have turned their hearts back.'”